The Body

“He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“For His “body” has been formed in His image and is closely joined together and constantly connected as one. And every member has been given divine gifts to contribute to the growth of all; and as these gifts operate effectively throughout the whole body, we are built up and made perfect in love.”
Ephesians‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭TPT‬‬

Paul continues with his analogy of a human body, using it to demonstrate how a spiritual body is supposed to work. It’s an analogy that is easy to follow because we are each intimately acquainted with our own bodies. Just looking at our hands, we see the various component parts all joined together, the fingers and joints, the skin, the tendons, the nails, each having a function as God designed them. We also know that when our hands don’t work properly, perhaps through diseases such as arthritis, or after an injury, all our whole bodily functions can be impacted. One of the amazing things about our human bodies is their ability, at least to a certain extent, to repair themselves. So if we cut a finger, it will heal itself after a few days. 

Paul used this analogy to describe how our church bodies should function. A church consists of people. Different ages. Men and women, boys and girls. Different gifts and abilities. So we might have medical professionals, carpenters and others who work with their hands, office workers, retirees, stay-at-home mums, and so on. And in Paul’s analogy, each part of the church, the “body”, helps other parts of the body to function well. Helping it to grow, “so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love”. And then the analogy continues because this body connects with other bodies around them, becoming the Bride of Christ, the Church.

But – there’s always a “but” – what about churches that only have a handful of members? Or what about Christians who are not part of a church? I believe we have to face the reality that many churches are not functioning as they should. Some churches have just a few elderly people, congregations getting smaller every year as individual members die. And I know several Christians who have become disillusioned with their local church and who have left, cutting themselves off from the life that comes from being a part of a church. And not just for them – leaving a church might mean that those left behind are deprived of a “gift”, making the growth of the church that bit more difficult. Sadly for them, Christians who are not plugged into a church tend to wither and die spiritually, abandoning their faith. And even more sadly, churches have become places shunned by people in our societies; just a place to visit on the occasion of weddings or funerals, or perhaps when there is a special service such as at Christmas. A place of no relevance, though, in their day to day lives. 

So how does all this impact the Christian pilgrim, on his or her journey. Straight away, we have to realise that we are not the only ones on our spiritual journeys through life. We must find, and become part of, a fellowship of believers, fellow pilgrims like us. This is the place designed for Christians, where we can grow in our faith and function as we should. I can find no other way in the Bible. And we pilgrims march on together, stronger in our faith because of our love for each other.

In Revelation 19 we read about the Bride, the church, making herself ready for being joined in marriage to Jesus. A lovely picture of the perfect marriage. One day we will all be together in His presence. But also we will all have to individually stand before God to give an account of our lives. In our churches we can help each other. We grow together in love, just as God designed. But always remembering that we have a loving Heavenly Father, who cares for us, loves us and desires our highest good. We won’t find the perfect church, but we will find a place where “we are built up and made perfect in love”. Just as God designed.

Speaking the Truth

“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:15‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Truth. In John 18, we read that Jesus came before Pilate and the subject of truth came up. We read, “Pilate said, “So you are a king?” Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked….”“. Pilate expressed, perhaps cynically, the uncertainty of “truth” from a human perspective. Absolute truth is a quality that eludes us, because we don’t have access to absolutes. For example, a witness in a court case promises to say “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. But what he says is only his perspective of the truth, based on his observations at the time the crime, was committed. Dictionaries don’t help much either – one definition of “truth” is “the quality or state of being true”. 

In John 14:6, Jesus said He is the truth. We read, “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” Only Jesus is the absolute truth. What He said was true. True then and just as true today. And this gives a baseline of truth, against which all other “truths” can be compared.

So what was Paul meaning when he said, “we will speak the truth in love”. The previous verse in Ephesians 4 mentions the danger of lies appearing to be so convincing that they could be interpreted as truth. And the previous verse to that highlights the opportunity we have to grow in our knowledge of Jesus, a theme also in our verse today. The reality is that the closer we get to Jesus, the closer we will get to the truth. Truth becomes accessible to us, and this is a powerful place to be. Paul then cautions us to only speak the truth in a spirit of love. Earlier in chapter 4 of Ephesians, Paul encourages us to always to “be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love“. And from that perspective, with a humble and gentle love that seeks the other person’s highest good, we can deliver difficult truths to help the other person to grow “in every way more and more like Christ”. 

So how does the pilgrim today speak out truths in love? We are all on our journeys through life; all at different stages. And one quality we must have is our love for fellow pilgrims. Then we can meet the criteria to say to someone, who is perhaps further behind on their journey, what they should, or shouldn’t, do. For example, someone who is engaging in some form of sinful activity would perhaps be helped by a fellow Christian lovingly pointing out the error of their ways. And we must also be aware that we too can be corrected in a similar way. But over it all, there must be a bridge of love, a relational bridge, over which we can walk with the other person, walking into truth together. Jesus said He was the Truth. He is the Truth. And as we grow to be more like Him, we too can perhaps get a glimpse of His loving truth as it works through our lives.

Tricks and Lies

“Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This verse starts with a “then”. So we have to look to the previous verses to pick up the thread of what Paul was saying to his friends in Ephesus. He had previously encouraged them with the thought that Christ cared so much for them that He had sent to them “gifts” – men who would equip them with all they needed to grow in their faith, bringing unity and maturity to their lives, individually and corporately. Paul then follows on with the thought that being “immature like children“, at least in the context of their faith, was not a good place to be. But the next sentence exposes and highlights a potential and very real danger for Christians, especially new believers. It is the impact that “new teaching” can have, potentially leading them into error. 

 For example, a church I read about some years ago, took the verse in Mark 16:18 which starts, “They will be able to handle snakes with safety….” consequently introducing poisonous snakes into their services. It is very easy to lift Bible verses out of their context and start to make a doctrine or custom from them, ending up being “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching”. That is why the church has always needed the wisdom of the five-fold ministries described in a previous verse. Paul, from his prison cell, could see the dangers and snares that could potentially bring chaos and ultimate destruction. He cared deeply for his friends. But we should never forget that God Himself cares very deeply for each one of us. Not only is He always there for us, but He has put in place a safety net to protect His people.

…lies so clever they sound like the truth”. This is a problem that has always been with us. Why is it that people generally lack the discernment needed to expose trickery? In modern parlance we call it “scamming”. I read yesterday that a man lost his entire savings – hundreds of thousands of pounds – because he believed “lies so clever they sound like the truth”. But in the church we need to be aware of spiritual scamming. The internet is awash with off-the-wall beliefs and recommendations. The “God” channels on television sometimes provide opportunities for fringe preachers to scam their watchers with incessant appeals for money.

But how does the Christian pilgrim continue through life, free from the pitfalls of error? How can we avoid being “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching”? There are some simple steps that we can take to stay on the “straight and narrow”. One of them is to get plugged into a church founded on the Word and the Spirit. There is safety in being with other pilgrims in a Godly church, where the leaders are Spirit-filled men and women grounded and obedient to God’s Word, the Bible. On our own we are in danger of being picked off by the devil. 1 Peter 5:8 reads, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” When we meet with other Christians we can encourage each other, pray for each other, help each other, and have the opportunity to warn those in danger of taking a wrong spiritual turning. 

Another way to protect ourselves from error is to ensure the church that we are a part of is accountable to other church leaders or apostles. Established denominations are not necessarily free from problems –  depressing errors include spiritual apostasy, liberalism and worldliness. Spiritual accountability is essential in bringing security to the congregation and their leaders

Another way to prevent being “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching” is to emulate the Berean Jews. In Acts 17, Paul and Silas found themselves preaching in a synagogue in Berea. And we read in Acts 17:11, “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth”. If someone brings teaching we haven’t heard before, check it out in the Bible. If what is said, no matter how plausible it appears to be, can’t be verified by God’s Word, then discard it.

Although today’s verse has negative connotations, we mustn’t forget our loving Heavenly Father. He cares for us. He loves us. He is with us every step in our pilgrimage through life. Jesus said in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you…”. In the end, that is the key.  We pilgrims will find peace and security, as we remain in Him.

The Gifts (2)

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:11-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Who or what is an Apostle? One thing for sure – it is not a stone effigy located in a dusty corner in a church building somewhere. Or a memorial encased in a reliquary containing a piece of bone or cloth, reputed to have at one time come from one of the original Apostles that we read about in the New Testament. Somewhere in a drawer I have some “apostle spoons” – spoons with a figure engraved or cast into the handle – an apostle isn’t that either. The apostles Christ gave to the church are alive and well and walking amongst us Christian pilgrims. According to Mr Google, the definition of the word “apostle” is “someone who is sent out”. So perhaps an apostle is sent out for the purpose of planting a new church. Or as a missionary to another land. Perhaps an apostle is responsible for the spiritual oversight of a number of independent churches, being each pastor’s pastor. And according to our verse today, apostles are a gift to the church. 

Similarly, the word “pastor” refers to someone who is in overall charge of a body of believers, a church somewhere. In some denominations they are referred to as “ministers”. A pastor cares for his congregation, listens to their problems, offers advice, visits and prays for the sick. A pastor usually combines his caring role with that of a teacher, and is responsibility for weekly sermons or messages, and perhaps Bible studies. A pastor administers the other church requirements such as taking funerals, or officiating at weddings. He looks after his “flock”, a role Christ knew would be needed as He builds His church.

We also have the prophets. We perhaps have a mental picture of an elderly man, stooping over a staff, dressed in something that resembles a sack with holes, and with a beard reaching his waist. But this can’t be further from the truth. Prophets are people who have a gift of bringing a message from God to His people. They dispense God-truths. They bring guidance and correction. They often disturb the status quo and bring fresh spiritual insights. Some even can see into the future, warning of world or church events to come. Sadly the prophet is often resented or misunderstood, because he or she advocates change, disturbing people who would prefer to stay in a place of spiritual comfort. 

The evangelist. Another important role mentioned by Paul in this Epistle. An evangelist brings good news. He or she preaches the Gospel at every opportunity. But in this role to the church, they train and enthuse others to join them. As Christians, we all have our messages. Our testimonies. Our stories of all that God has done for us. Evangelists help and encourage us to share what we have with others.

So in these “gifts”, often called the “five-fold ministries”, we see a picture of why Christ gave such gifts to the church. Where would we be without the men and women who perform these roles? No doubt, an undisciplined group of people who would soon stray to a place of spiritual danger. We thank God for these people, grateful for their diligence in helping us “be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

But what do these “gifts” matter to us, in our pilgrimage through life? Surely, we might think, we could do just as well sat at home. Watching the God Channel or TBN. Looking up YouTube videos uploaded by famous preachers. Logging into Sunday church livestreams. We might even think that we don’t need input from such people, telling ourselves that we just need the Holy Spirit and our Bibles. It is true that there are Christians who try to live out their faith in this way. There are even Christians who have no choice, being imprisoned for being Christians in countries such as North Korea, without even a Bible. But none of this is God’s model for His church. If that wasn’t the case, Christ would not have needed to give these gifts to His church. In these verses there is the implicit message that God’s people were being equipped as a people together, a church or fellowship. 

There is a verse relevant to today’s theme in Hebrews 10:25. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near”. Oh, by the way, we must be obedient to our “gifts”. It says in Hebrews 13:17 that we must, “Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow…”. Hmmm…

The Gifts (1)

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:11-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is an important part of Paul’s letter, both to his readers in Ephesus and to Christians today. The first thing is that Christ, through His love and concern for His followers, gave important “gifts” to resource His future Bride, the church. These “gifts” for the Ephesian church were Spirit-filled men who each had a specific job to do in building up the church. The job titles listed – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – dovetailed together to form a support and training function, not just a leadership structure, for the health and development of this body of believers. But these “gifts” are timeless. They were not just for the early Church but instead portrayed a model for all the churches that were to follow in the ages to come. And so we Christians, regardless of where we are in our spiritual pilgrimage, should prick up our spiritual ears. We should look out for these special people, who Christ, in His divine wisdom, could see would be required. And while we are looking around us, we should take careful note of verse 12. These five “gifts” – the men and women who were and are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – were not supposed to do the work of the church themselves while the punters sat in the pews. Their role was to train up the church members to do the work God was asking them to do. You see, we each have a role to play in building up the church, “the body of Christ”. We cannot abdicate our own responsibilities and expect the minister to do everything.

So what is our role in building up the church? It is the same for us today as it was for the Ephesian church all those years ago. We all have a job description, which involves outward-looking responsibilities for evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:19), and also involves being unified with our fellow believers and the Christian community as a whole, as we can see from several verses in this Epistle. We must spend time reading the Word and praying, for our own spiritual health. Spending time with our wonderful Heavenly Father, sharing and communicating. Enjoying His presence in our lives.

But why do we need these “gifts” of men and women, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers? Paul suggested they are there for “equipping” and “building”. Their individual Holy Spirit – led giftings are necessary to train us well for our roles. These men and women are pilgrims with a specific calling. Men and women who are further down the road of life than us, and who have many things to share for our benefit. We’ll look at their particular roles on another day. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people by giving them the tools and training they need “to do His work”. Our responsibility is to gain, through them, maturity, measuring up to Christ’s standards.

It is sad that after two years of lockdowns and social restrictions, many churches, at least in the UK, have become much smaller, dwindling in membership. Some people in these congregations have become used to attending virtual meetings on-line, or have decided that they prefer to spend their Sabbaths doing something else. But we cannot be Christians in splendid isolation; Jesus’ plan was for His followers to meet together. “They worshipped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—” (Acts 2:46). Two key words here in this verse are “together” and “shared”. Through meeting together we encourage one another, but we can also enjoy the input from Christ’s “gifts”, training and helping us. Cheering us on as Christ’s representatives for the work of His service.

God in His love and wisdom gave gifts to the church. We need them to equip and encourage us in our spiritual pilgrimage. And as we do God’s work in this sad, sinful and war-torn world we bring our messages of hope to the hopeless, communicating Christ’s concern for the lost all the better because of His gifts. Worth a big “thank You, Jesus”?

Up and Down

Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:9-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

At first sight, these two verses might seem a bit difficult to understand. They describe something that seems at odds with our understanding and experience. In the previous verse, verse 8, we read that Christ ascended somewhere. We know that happened because we read in Acts 1:9 that Jesus, “was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him.” Jesus ascended into Heaven, as witnessed by His disciples. And, as an aside, in Acts 1:11 we read that this is the way He will return. One day soon? We don’t of course know when this will be but happen it will.

Another question we have is, “Where did Jesus go to when He ascended?” The disciples saw Him reach the clouds but after that they lost sight of Him. So is He floating around somewhere above us, sitting on clouds, as some artists have portrayed? Perhaps a lot of the confusion we have is because we try and mix the physical and the spiritual. We know and believe, from other Scriptures, that Jesus is in Heaven. We read in 1 Peter 3:22, “Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honour next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority.” 

Paul, in these verses in Ephesians, sets out a picture of Christ being able to move where He wishes throughout the entire physical and spiritual environment in which we live. More than that, Paul said He did this, “so that he might fill the entire universe with himself”. The Bible seems to provide a little glimpse that this “entire universe” consists of three heavens. There is the physical “heaven” that we can see in part, and which many of our scientists spend their lives in exploring with all the technology at their disposal; the physical universe we can see with its myriads of galaxies and stars. Then there is the “Heaven” where Jesus lives, as described by Peter in the verse quoted above. Where He is sitting on the right hand of God the Father. 

But we also read that the devil and his rebellious angels were cast out of Heaven down to earth (Ezekiel 28:17). Now satan is a spiritual being, so that is why we can’t see him wandering around our planet complete with a red suit, tail and horns holding a pitchfork and accompanied by similarly red-suited demons. But he and his cohorts are here spiritually, as we read in 1 Peter 5:8. “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” But as a spiritual being, our enemy will be living somewhere. Some say in hell, but hell doesn’t exist yet – it doesn’t appear in God’s plan until He needs it at the time of the last judgement (Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 20). So some theologians say that there is a “second heaven” where the devil lives with his minions. The third Heaven is where God lives; the place where Paul was taken up to – we can read his account in 2 Corinthians 12. He called it “Paradise”, as did Jesus to the repentant thief on the adjacent cross.

So back to our verses in Ephesians 4. Paul laid out for his readers a word picture of our almighty God and His omnipresence, throughout the entire, limitless and eternal physical and spiritual universe that he created. We will never get our human minds around its extent, but we can rest assured that because God is everywhere, He can be with each one of us right now. We are not alone. Jesus was right when He said in Matthew 28:20, “…I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” On our pilgrimage through life, we can feel His love and grace around us, lifting our spirits whatever the circumstances. Reminded that one day we too will ascend into Paradise, to join Jesus there. And able at any time to reach out to Him in prayer. Let’s finish today with the first three verses of Psalm 46. A great comfort and reassurance for wobbly pilgrims, as we are sometimes.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, 
though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging

Psalm 46:1-3 NIV

A Special Gift

“However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say, “When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.””
Ephesians‬ ‭4:7-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Jesus, the Son of God, is generous. I would say infinitely generous. There is no limit to His generosity. We read in our verses today that each of us has been given a gift through the generosity of Christ. But can you imagine being given a gift-wrapped package? Straight away, you notice that the wrapping paper isn’t that cheap stuff so thin that it tears as you look at it. This wrapping paper is of a quality fitting for a royal person. It looks as though it has been made of pure gold, sparkling with precious stones. But then you notice that in places on the package there are drops of blood. Before I get carried away any further with my analogy, Jesus’ generosity started with the greatest gift of all time at Calvary. There He gave His life for me, the very Son of God dying a horrible, blood-soaked death for the forgiveness of my sins. What a gift! What a Saviour! But I now stand before God as His child. A royal child of a Royal King. And I have this package in my hands. Jesus has just given it to me. Tremblingly, I start to open it, knowing that within is something special. It has to be so, because Jesus’ first gift was infinitely precious. Surely this gift will be something equally mind-boggling. And it is. 

I should say straight away, that this is no worldly gift. It’s not a gift-wrapped Rolex watch. Or some other such trinket. This is a special spiritual gift that dovetails into my natural giftings. What is it? Well, in three places in the New Testament there are lists of spiritual gifts.  Romans 12:6-8 lists prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and mercy. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 contains wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:28 includes a few more – healings, helps, leadership, speaking in other tongues. And for good measure, there are gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11, gifts given to the church including the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers, but more about them in a future blog.

When we open our package, what do we find? Perhaps our expectation is to find a golden key and a box marked “Spiritual Gift”. Opening it will tell us what our gift is. Or perhaps we hope to find something like a spiritual cheque book, with blank cheques signed by Jesus Himself. An impressive gift enabling us to go out and do amazing things for God. Or perhaps we open it and find nothing there. Disappointed, we turn to Jesus and ask the question – “Where is my special gift”? 

Spiritual gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:11 says, “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have”. However, it is no good sitting back waiting for our spiritual gift to arrive via some Heavenly postman, spending our time unproductively complaining that we can’t serve God because we don’t have the right gifting. We all have a primary calling, which is to serve God in the ways He has ordained. And strangely, as we faithfully and willingly serve Him in every situation that comes our way, He will supply the gifts we need. So if we find ourselves in a situation where someone is sick, we can in faith reach out to God for the gift of healing. If we find someone in a quandary about an important decision that has to be made, we can in faith reach out for a word of knowledge, or wisdom. At other times, as we faithfully use our natural gifts to do what we do well, He will supply that additional spiritual tools we need. 

Let us be a thankful people, thanking God for all He has given us. The unlimited gifts of a generous and loving God, so freely given to those with the faith to ask.

Four One’s

“There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.”
Ephesians‬ ‭4:5-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians continues the theme of unity. And in these two verses he presents a fundamental view of God. Paul sets out the bottom line. The bedrock of our faith. A picture of God that is total and complete in every way. I see a picture before me today of an onion, and Paul is peeling away the layers, exposing truths that are seismic and fundamental to our beliefs. We have to peel away each layer to be able to appreciate the next. This view of God is so profound and true that if we cannot accept in turn each of Paul’s statements, then there is no point in continuing. This is a creed with five truths that underpins all other creeds. 

So for the first layer, Paul says there is “one Lord“. Believe it or not, in the world today there are many “lords”. And all except one are the wrong lord. We can make a loved one “lord” of our lives. Or even the devil. We have a privileged class in the UK of “lords”. And a part of our government here in the UK is the “House of Lords”. Many people make a “lord” out of their hobbies, or jobs. But Paul said there is only one Lord who really matters and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. If we hold a view that Jesus was anything other than the Son of God, a Member of the Holy Trinity, both human and divine, then there is no point in proceeding to the next layer of Paul’s “onion”.

The next layer refers to “one faith“. A sad phenomenon in some established churches today is the willingness to have “multi-faith” services. The bizarre spectacle of a Rabbi, Imam, Priest, Buddhist monk,  and a Clergyman holding joint prayers is directly at conflict with the God-truth of there being “one faith”. But is this what Paul was bothered about? No. I believe Paul was pointing out that true faith was not only believing that Jesus was, and is, the Son of God, that He died for our sins and that He sent the Holy Spirit to be His representative here on Planet Earth, but Paul was also pointing out that the faith we have extends to an unshakeable belief and assurance that God knows what is best for us, and regardless of our circumstances we will continue to have faith in Him. For an example, Abraham showed true faith when he placed his son on the altar as a sacrifice to God. True faith involves obedience to God regardless of the circumstances.

We continue to the next layer by considering what “one baptism” means. The New Testament mentions two types of baptism – baptism in water (Acts 8:36-39) and baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:16). The fact that Paul mentions baptism here is therefore significant. It is an essential, non-negotiable, part of what being a Christian is all about. In Acts 2:38 we read, “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit“.

The next layer of our onion is the all-encompassing declaration of who God is. There is only “one God“. I can remember a Muslim man I worked with telling me, some years ago, that we both worshipped the same God. But the God of the Christians, Paul’s God, our God, is different to Allah, the Muslim God. very different. Sadly, even amongst Christians there are different views of who God is. Some Christian denominations worship a God that is different to the One described in His Book, the Bible. But one thing is very clear. God is a God of love and grace. He is infinitely patient and kind. “The LORD is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.” (Psalm 145:8).

Finally, Paul continues with the statement that God is “Father of all“. God is our Heavenly Father. We are His children. And as with any family, children can be naughty and rebellious. Well, that is how we started off in our natural lives. The religious jargon is that such behaviour is “sin”. Sadly, most people deny that they have a Heavenly Father. But saying we don’t have a Heavenly Father is the same as saying we don’t have a natural father. One day everyone will stand before God to give an account of their lives – most people will get a nasty shock if they continue to deny He exists! But it is so sad for those who don’t believe in God’s Fatherhood. He is the perfect Father. Loving. Fair. Helpful. A Guide when we need Him. Gracious. Merciful. God’s parental attributes could fill a book – well they do – His Book, the Bible. And the more we read it, the more we find out about Him. Imagine what it would be like to be in a situation where we never knew our natural father. But he left us a book about his life. I can guarantee we would read, and re-read the book he left us, to try and find out as much as we could about him. So it is with our Heavenly Father. He left us a book all about Him. And just for good measure, He threw in a shedload of information about our elder Brother, Jesus. Oh – and don’t forget the Holy Spirit – there’s a lot about Him in there as well. Three for the price of one?

The rest of these verses describe God as being, “over all, in all, and living through all.” Paul included these words just to make sure that what he had been saying was total. Complete. Nothing missed out. The word “one” is mentioned four times in these verses. Someone once said that if God said something once, we should take note. If He said it three times then we had better sit up and do something about it. Well, here is Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saying something four times. Something important, don’t you think?

Making Every Effort

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.
Ephesians‬ ‭4:3-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If there is one feature of the world in which we live, it is a lack of unity. I’m not just talking about those of us who claim the title of “Christian” – more of that in a moment – but I’m mentioning the desperate condition of a lack of unity between nations, between people groups, between political parties, even in our own families. One thing our enemy, the devil, excels at is the art of inducing disunity. He will sow seeds of division at every opportunity. So before we know it, a husband and wife will find themselves arguing over the most trivial thing. Family members will stop speaking to each other for years, often over no more than a misunderstanding. Or at the other end of the scale a nation will go to war with another, for a reason not immediately clear, or lost in history. And even within a country, cultural and racial differences can seriously divide a nation. We live in a world where unity is a rare quality, a dream from a fantasy world.

Christians seem to be no different to anyone else when it comes to unity. Strife builds up within a church congregation over their liturgies. Over which hymns or songs are to be used. Over which version of the Bible is the most suitable. Even over, as in the case in a local church, how the chairs are put out – some want the chairs set out in rows, others in a more intimate semi-circular configuration. And all of that is before we start on the lack of unity between different denominations. Even in the early church, sectarianism had to be dealt with – we see a hint of this in Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 3. I wonder sometimes if God throws up His hands in horror at the behaviour of His children.

In our verse today, Paul wrote about the importance of unity. And he said we would have to work at it. Why?  Because we have no choice – Jesus is coming back one day for a holy and united Bride, the Church. Note the word “united”. That is because Jesus Christ is monogamous. He won’t be doing a Solomon, having so many wives that he almost lost count. The Bride is us. We are His unified Church, with everyone bound together in peace. This is our “glorious hope for the future”. Jesus said He will build His Church, and the “bricks” He uses will be us pilgrims, held together by peace.

So we make every effort to be unified and at peace with everyone. Not just when we feel like it. It may be hard work some days. Dealing with the sinful thoughts that rise up within us, not allowing them to be verbalised into disruption. Pride and other negative qualities can spring up within us like mushrooms and before we know it we’re involved in another schism. For today’s pilgrim, facing into another day on the road of life, making an effort to be at peace with those round us can be an insurmountable challenge. Particularly as many we meet, in our schools, workplaces, communities and families, won’t have the same desire. How many times have I thought that the person before me is “looking for a fight today”? We ask the grumpy amongst us, “did you get out of bed on the wrong side this morning?”. Sometimes we despair as we all lapse into an uneasy silence, peace an illusion, unity below the horizon of our expectations. But making an effort means loving the unlovely, issuing a kind word to the unkind, not answering back to a verbal tide of abuse, not reacting to a bad driver, allowing God to deal with unjust situations, and so on. Will it mean that we might find ourselves trodden on, or put down? Patronised or overlooked? Possibly. But as we “make every effort” God will do amazing things. Both in us and in others.

Being Humble

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
Ephesians‬ ‭4:2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Being humble. If there was ever a life-condition that is truly counter-cultural then this is it. We live in a world where self is king (or queen!). Where we are told it’s all about “me”. Companies run courses in “self-assertiveness”. Children are encouraged to “stickup for themselves” in the classroom and playground. We’re told not to let people “trample all over us”. We score points if we get “one over” someone else. Our politicians look for opportunities to further their own ambitions, if necessary to the detriment of their colleagues. “Ruthlessness” is a quality often revered in others. But Paul says, “Always be humble and gentle” – living life the Jesus-way involves a lifestyle of humility. 

Jesus taught us how to be humble. In John 13 we read how Jesus, the disciples’ Lord and Master, did the most menial of tasks – He washed the dirt and grime from His disciple’s feet. This was almost too much for Peter – he couldn’t understand how Someone he looked up to, who he recognised as the Messiah, who he had placed on a pedestal occupied, in his mind, by the greatest Person who had ever lived, could wash his feet. This amazing Person kneeling before him, taking each foot in turn, washing away all the detritus from his feet and between his toes, wiping over the corns and callouses, and then drying them carefully on a towel. But that is what Jesus did in an eternal act of humility that was just as counter-cultural in those days as it would be today. Throughout His ministry, Jesus confronted those who were proud and arrogant; the door into the Kingdom of Heaven will be closed to such people.

Paul picked up this theme again in Philippians 2. We read, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had“. (Verses 3-5). 

So why is humility so important in the lives of Christians? And what does a humble lifestyle look like? The very essence of the Gospel is looking out for the needs of others instead of our own needs. We have a message of hope, a message that is counter-cultural in a war-torn and unhappy world. But to be delivered effectively it has to be supported by the right attitude. An attitude of love. An attitude of grace. An attitude of acceptance. An attitude of humility. We must always deliver our message gently and respectfully. Not rising to insults and rudeness. 

We all have faults. Don’t believe it if someone says they don’t. But we have a tendency to ignore our own faults and only see those in others. Paul reminded us in the second part of today’s verse that we must overlook the faults we see in our brothers and sisters in the faith, because we love them. Humility and gentleness leads the way in all our relationships, both inside and outside the Church. We pilgrims must remember that we are all “damaged goods”, damaged by sin, damaged by negative influences, damaged through contact with those in the world around us, damaged by our own misguided mistakes and choices. But, thanks be to God, He hasn’t finished yet in rebuilding our lives. We are being reborn and in the process we are becoming more and more like Jesus. And underpinning it all is love. Through our love for our brothers and sisters we must always treat them with humility and respect, mentally washing their feet every time we meet them.